KAILUA-KONA — From the sweet tooth to the green thumb, the annual Big Island Chocolate Festival always offers something for everybody with a weekend of celebrating the growing local chocolate industry.
This year’s event, now in its eighth rendition, is April 26-27 at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.
From the cacao farmer to the chocolatier to those just looking for a fun night out, Kona Cacao Association president Farsheed Bonakdar said the festival offers something for everyone. It’s also an opportunity for culinary students at both the high school and college level to show off their skills.
“These are our future chefs, and we want to make sure that they get excited about what they do,” said Bonakdar.
They have at least 10 college teams between Maui and the Big Island and another three to six teams from high schools ready to go this year. He added it’s critical to offer opportunities to local students who are looking to develop and hone their talents, noting the demand for more workforce in local food service.
Culinary students will also be able to attend the festival’s chocolate classes for free.
The festival will also feature educational opportunities such as seminars for farmers who are either actively cultivating cacao or are considering cultivation.
Bonakdar said with other cacao sources being hit by diseases not so prevalent in Hawaii and countries like China, India and Indonesia consuming more chocolate, Hawaii is poised to be a key player in the market.
“Hawaii will be a valuable cacao producer,” he said, “especially if we can standardize the processing system and eventually, hopefully — and this is my goal to do this — start producing commercial grade chocolate right here on the Big Island for the food industry and the consumers alike.”
Bonakdar’s favorite part of the festival is the gala, which is scheduled from 5-9 p.m. April 27. It features food booths, unlimited wine and beer pours, silent auction, dancing, chocolate body painting, chocolate fountain and more.
“Everything happens that night,” he said, “and that’s where we actually show the world, show the island, show everybody what we’ve done or what we’re doing. And every year has been getting more popular and busier than the year before.”
This year’s theme is “Black and White,” and attendees are encouraged to dress up in black-and-white attire.
Proceeds from the festival will benefit eight local programs including many dedicated to education or agriculture in the region.
Last year, five beneficiaries received a total of $27,000 in proceeds from the Big Island Chocolate Festival, according to a release from the festival.
Among this year’s beneficiaries are culinary programs at local high schools and colleges, the Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture, Kona Pacific Public Charter School’s West Hawaii summer lunch program and Kona Dance and Performing Arts.
“Basically we try to invest back in the community,” said Bonakdar, “specifically when it comes to learning and education.”
More than 600 people attended last year’s festival, and the festival is expected to be another sold out event, according to a press release. General admission tickets are $89 each with a limited amount of VIP gala tickets on sale for $129. More details are available at www.bigislandchocolatefestival.com/tickets.